By Laura Shepard
While I love living in Forest Hills, the No. 1 thing I would change about the neighborhood is Queens Boulevard.
The road’s current design favors drivers above all other users, at the expense of our safety, health, prosperity and environment.
I’m impressed with the Department of Transportation’s plan to redesign the stretch from Eliot Avenue to Yellowstone Boulevard. Like the existing phases, the plan includes new and improved crosswalks, expanded medians and protected bike lanes.
The fact that 535 people were injured and two were killed by motorists on this stretch between 2009 and 2016, according to the city’s Vision Zero View, is unacceptable. Further, the fact that this road prioritizes vehicles, when we know that their emissions are driving climate change and increasing respiratory illnesses, is illogical.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Queens Boulevard can, and should, be redesigned so that it is safe, functional and sustainable for everyone. People from all walks of life live, work, take the train, go to school, shop and eat along the boulevard. We all deserve better. This is an opportunity to plan and build the future we want, rather than maintaining a status quo no one likes.
Like many Forest Hills and Rego Park residents, I do not drive or own a car. I rely on the subway, LIRR, walking and biking to get around. The latter two often make me feel anxious and unsafe, particularly on Queens Boulevard. I avoid crossing whenever possible, but it’s necessary. The library, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, local businesses and even jobs are all on the other side.
Protected bike lanes are crucial here, as Queens Boulevard is one of the few places to cross the Long Island Expressway and safely access the existing bike lane network in western Queens and Manhattan. When the lanes are in place, I will ride to midtown, only 10 miles away, while saving money, exercising, enjoying the outside and having fun. Many people already do this, from Jamaica and points much further south and east, but when they build it, more will come.
This is a good thing. Enabling safe cycling alleviates traffic congestion, as bikes are significantly smaller and nimbler. Every time a would-be motorist opts to bike instead, their carbon dioxide emissions are avoided. Cycling can also be a fast, welcome option when train service is disrupted or inadequate.
Making streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians has been a boon to neighborhoods and small businesses around the city. I would patronize businesses along Queens Boulevard more often if I felt safer walking or biking to them. More than 126 local business owners signed petitions, indicating their support, many of whom employ cyclists for deliveries. These workers provide fast, cheap service, but the current infrastructure requires them to risk their safety to earn a living.
Our lives and livelihoods require a safer Queens Boulevard. I hope our elected and appointed representatives, will support the DOTs plan to improve our neighborhood.